LITERATURE: The Body Artist – Even More on Verisimilitude

DeLillo pushes the point on this, but we’re not left to our own devices except to decide the reliability of the narrator and the protagonist.  After her husband (Rey)’s death, Lauren finds a strange little man in one of the upstairs bedrooms.  Let me put in the encounter here, though I may repeat it for other reasons again:

She found him the next day in a small bedroom off the large empty room at the far end of the hall on the third floor.  He was smallish and fine-boned and at first she though he was a kid, sandy-haired and roused from deep sleep, or medicated maybe.

He sat on the edge of the bed in his underwear.  In the first seconds she thought he was inevitable.  She felt her way back in time to the earlier indications that there was someone in the house and she arrived at this instant, unerringly, with her perceptions all sorted and endorsed.  (p. forty-one)

In Chapter 1, there was foreshadowing of this in the noises heard by both Lauren and Rey within the house, with appropriate guesses at the source in this old homestead out in the country.  But her response, while she is somewhat in shock after her husband’s death, still seems calm.  However, just as we scream at the movie or television screen to the protagonist not to open the door, Delillo has foreseen this, and Lauren does question his presence and her course of reaction, although she’s fed and talked to him first:

She knew she would have to call hospitals and clinics, psychiatric facilities, to ask about a missing patient.  (p. forty-six)p. forty-six)

She said, "I came here to be by myself.  This is important to me.  I am willing to wait.  I will give you a chance to tell me who you are.  But I don’t want someone in my house.  I will give you a chance," she said.  "But I will not wait indefinitely."  (

She didn’t want it to sound like a formal warning, but it probably did.  She would have to call the nearest mission for the homeless, which wouldn’t be near at all, and maybe the church in town or the church with the missing steeple on Little Moon and she would have to call the police, finally, if nothing else worked.  (p. forty-seven)

Even if we do not allow ourselves to suspend belief as to the existence of this man, we have some confidence that Lauren is asking the right questions, following a plan of action that is believable under the circumstances.  So within this technique, DiLillo is also taking advantage of the opportunity for us to support his protagonist. 

Does she do any of these things she knows she should do?  No.  She might have if the little man was not quite so innocuous, and didn’t start speaking in halting language that resembled at first her own, then her husband’s words and speech pattern.  A bit frightening, yes; but if you’d just lost your husband to suicide, wouldn’t you also grab onto whatever might help you answer some of the inevitable questions?

That, I think, is verisimilitude.

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